No Sweepstakes

It was a weekend I was looking forward to, as it brings a particularly enjoyable contest called the ARRL Sweepstakes. It’s actually the first part of a 2 part contest, this weekend participants use CW (Morse code) to make contacts with as many stations as possible in North America while trying to achieve a “clean sweep.” This year, the Ontario section has been broken into 3 separate sections, so operators must now work 83 ARRL/RAC sections. I have been fortunate to get achieve a clean sweep once in 6 tries (combined between CW and SSB) over the last 3 years.

Unfortunately due to the lack of people at work, no one signed up for my weekend shifts, so I won’t be participating in Sweepstakes for the first time since 2009. I was hoping to work the CW contest (this weekend) more so than the SSB contest starting November 17 since I was able to win my section the last 2 years, running low power (100 watts). While I haven’t done much contesting the past 6 months, I was looking forward to work on a combined total of 1000 QSOs (contacts). The last 2 years I was able to break the 500 contact mark, but was not able to put in enough time to double those numbers.

Chances are I high I will skip out on the SSB portion of this contest and wait in lie for the CQWW DX CW contest that starts on November 24. Its another contest that I enjoy operating in, but haven’t put in much over about 6 hours in this contest the past 3 years. It’s a long contest as well, 48 hours and trying to juggle work and family life when you have a 6 year old can be challenging. Hopefully my work schedule allows me that time to get at least 20-24 hours in. This would allow me to work some DX stations (outside the USA).

The only other contest I might consider this year will be the ARRL 10-Meter contest in December. It’s another one that is enjoy and you don’t have to spend a lot of time in to generate contacts. So not much radio left for me this year but I am disappointed to be missing Sweepstakes this year.

Support for Radiosport – NCCC

By no means do I consider myself an accomplished contester if I base my success on wallpaper, one would think I have failed in the contests I have entered. But that is not the case. By far the best decision I have made since becoming licensed as an amateur (only 1995) was joining a very accomplished contest club when I moved to Northern California. Not only have I become involved in week contesting being around accomplished operators and a very active club has increased my enjoyment in amateur radio.

Depending on your interest in amateur radio some believe there is a negative connotation surrounding radio contests that take to the bands nearly every weekend. For me, this is the best aspect of the hobby thanks in part to the Northern California Contest Club.

Prior to finding the NCCC I was somewhat without direction in amateur radio. I knew I wanted to be licensed, but without an HF radio or antenna I did not know what direction I wanted to take. Thankfully I received sage advice from Glenn, K6NA about a local “big gun” in Oakley, CA where my wife and I moved. After some e-mails back and I had an eyeball with Ken, N6RO or Radio Oakley, as his station is known.

It was by far the most impressive display of radios I had seen in my short career and I was really excited about meeting him and having the (future) opportunity to operate from RO. It gets better, the group of amateurs that come together for the major contests are some of the best; K3EST, WA6O, K6AW, N6BV, N6ML and N6WM. Many of these amateurs are a wealth of knowledge of the many aspects of the hobby.

It was upon my return from this first meeting that I knew I wanted to get involved in contesting. While I grandiose plans, the reality would limit my ability to put a station on he air. Fortunately with a little bit of legwork and luck I was able to get W6ONV on the HF bands in 2008.

Since that time I have tapped Ken and some of the group for assistance, hardware, including the purchase of my Yaesu FT-1000MP, which is my primary rig and acceptance to the Northern California Contest Club in December, 2008.

While I am still not a major play nor have I really taken advantage of N6RO being so close during a contest I have been able to involve myself in numerous contests through out the year. I accepted the fact I would not always win a contest I entered, but that was not the point of getting on the air during a contest weekend.

After establishing a base line of the contests I entered I made it a point to set personal goals I wanted to achieve in a given contest. Above all I wanted to have fun because if any time this hobby is not fun, then maybe I should rethinking about being part of it.

Fortuantely the NCCC has many different calibers of contesters, from the part time operator to the hardcore, spend every minute with “BIC”. Sometimes it’s actually the participation of the little guns, like myself who could potentially make or break a club competition. So I make it a point to give the best effort possibly when a contest like ARRL Sweepstakes rolls around or the NCCC sponsored California QSO Party (CQP) takes to the air in October.

After nearly 2 years of contesting I do believe I have become a more experienced (and hopefully better) operator. One achievement has been learning Morse code and participating in many CW contests. I also added a rig interface to participate in RTTY contests, which strangely enough has taken a backseat to CW.

If I look at my accomplishments, I was the high score in the 2010 WPX RTTY running low power in California. It was somewhat unexpected to see my call sign in bold type in CQ Magazine. Then again my score of 350,000+ points was well off the pace of the top 10 score. But as I said for me it was not about winning, but participating, having fun and achieving my personal goals I set. Any personal gain (wallpaper) is secondary.

I look forward to a long relationship with the NCCC as 2011 rolls along. If I am ever in doubt, need assistance or even hardware, the first place I will turn for help is the NCCC. By far joining this club has been the best move I made. While I don’t get to attend many meetings or participate as part of a multi effort, but I relish the time I have spent as a member of the club.

2011 NCCC Awards

Last night at the Tied House Brewery in Mountain View, the NCCC held their annual awards meeting. This meeting rewards contesters for their success the previous year. Many of the awards center around the ARRL Sweepstakes and CQP, but there are other awards (and certificates), as well as bottles of wine by WK6I handed out through the evening.

This year was more enjoyable personally than last year as I was handed one award (KB-500) for my 714 QSOs in the ARRL Sweepstakes. I consider it a step in the right direction, as I now need to build on that success in SS later this year. Doing the match driving home from the meeting last night I was hoping to improve my combined scores by 20%, but that leaves me short of the next of the next award (KB-1000), so I must rethink my approach this year and get more “BIC” time in order to increase my combined scores by 40%!

I have attended this meeting the past two years, as I see the awards being handed out and makes me yearn to work harder and put forth a better effort, not only for myself and my personal score, but for the club score. I can only do so much with the station I have, but I can continue to improve as a contester. Participating in more contests, taking up with a multi grou (like N6RO) to gain experience or to become “HMO” (highly motivated operator) as Rusty, W6OAT gave me the definition of that acronym.

There is more to contesting than awards. Many operators don’t “chase paperwork” and while it’s nice to be recognized as a winner, I come out of every contest with that feeling if I have achieved my goals. While 2011 has started off rather slow, I am already planning full effort contests in the coming months as well as a potential CQP mobile operation (more on that later).

So while I walked out of the Tied House Brewery with a single award (which I knew I was receiving) it still made me feel good about being part of a very good club with some great individuals who work even better as a team. Big props to all at the NCCC! No other club I would rather be a part of.

2010 ARRL Sweepstakes – SSB

Contest: ARRL Sweepstakes
Date: November 20-21, 2010
Mode: SSB
Period: Starts 2100 UTC Saturday, ends 0259 UTC Monday

80 / 4 / 0
40 / 90 / 17
20 / 206 / 53
15/ 48 / 6
TOTAL: 348 QSO / 76 SECT
SCORE: 52,896 (TIME ON: 15 H 18 Mn)

SOAPBOX: There is always a thrill and excitement at the start of any contest. I had planned on working the full 24 hours in order to better my combined score, break 1000 Qs, achieve a second “clean sweep” and contribute to a potential club victory. Things did not begin well, as I was an hour late to the contest, forgetting there was 7 hours difference (not 8 hours) and while I had made accommodations at work to leave early, I still arrived home minutes before 22z. Rule 1: Know the rules.

No real harm done…I guess. It would mean I shorten my overnight break by an hour, but it also meant I missed out on what is usually my best rate of many contests I enter. This was confirmed when I had a 45 rate during 22z and a 30 rate for 23z. Not great, but for my modest station and contesting skills these are numbers I am continually striving to improve. So I figured I lost out on 45-50 Qs that first hour.

Things would go from bad to worse because dinner plans were dropped in my lap about 3 hours prior to the start of the contest. It’s not as if this contest just sprang up out of nowhere, I had been talking about it since the end of the CW portion. But as they say, family comes first, so after about 2.5 hours I was forced into a break.

For the first 6 hours of the contest I had about 3.5 hours in unscheduled off time. Getting my “BIC” around 02z I encounter some terrible rain static. Working only from the SteppIR Vertical I made a combined 3 QSOs in about 30 minutes on 40M. I moved to 80M, but it was no better. The weather was here and between the rain noise (S9+20), the wind and cracks of thunder and flashes of lightning I decided to disconnect the station and call it a night with only 79 QSOs logged, well of my anticipated totals and behind the curve on the goals I had set.

There was a marginal improvement when I returned to the shack at 112z, but it was a long 90 minutes on 40M waiting for 20M to open. I had planned on running on 15/20M, but when I found a relatively quiet spot I never received any answers to my “CQ SS” calls. I did this a few times for about 5-10 minutes through out the contest and the results were also the same. All I have to point to is the hex beam at 20′ as the problem.

The contest was all S & P for the 15+ hours I participated, my ears are still sore and ringing. By far the best part of Sunday was the NCCC rally on 40M. I ended up working 35 stations in 41 minutes. All but three (2, ID and SDG) were NCCC members. It was a great strategy and sort of give me a second wind for the rest of the contest.

With my goal now unattainable, I was focusing on achieving a “clean sweep.”  The only challenge was breaking through the pile up to log VO1TA. I tried numerous on occasions, but kept on the hunt for other sections I was in need of; WPA, SC and LAX. I saw spots for W6AFA on the cluster, but never could hear him on 20M and figured I would find him on 40M. As 15/20M started to close I began ruling out finding WPA and SC, both of which I never heard during Sunday. I would end with 76 sections.

Much of Sunday was back and forth between 15/20M. As I mentioned I was never successful in running on any band during the weekend. While my rate goal was only 26/hr, that number jumped dramatically higher with all the unforeseen issues at the start of the contest.  About 22z I started moving between 15/20/40M but the rate and number of new stations was dropping dramatically.

What 40M did offer me was a chance to work many of the western sections I had not yet heard or worked. The band never really was as good for rate with the exception of the “rally,” which yielded a 41 rate. I finished up on 80M with just a few Qs, most of which were NCCC members.

As for problems, I had the FT-1000MP cut out on my once, it just seemed to loose power for some unknown reason. I had this same problem occur a few months back in a RTTY contest, but the failure rate was much higher, than the single time I had it on Sunday.

The only remaining problems I have are with the antennas. The hex beam is still stuck at 20 with the only possibility of getting 30′ higher through the purchase of a new Channelmaster mast. Not sure 10′ is going to add much improvement for the investment. It has been nice to read the reflector and see two towers for sale, while a tower is not prudent at this point i am still trying to justify the purchase, just to stash it away for when conditions allow me to raise the antenna higher, as well as add the Force 12 C-4XL. I continue to struggle on the low bands with only the BigIR at my disposal. Not sure adding more radials is going to improve anything at this point, with nearly 2000′ of copper already under the vertical now.

While I missed my goal for SS SSB, I need to look at this experience as a whole. What did I achieve? First I worked my second ARRL Sweepstakes in 2 years. I improved by 40% in CW, QSOs up from 218 in 2009 to 366 in 2010. I also achieved my first clean sweep during the CW contest this year. My final score for CW was also up 47% from 30,520 in 2009 to 58,560 in 2010. On the SSB side QSOs were up 23% with 267 in 2009 to 348 in 2010. As for the final score it was up 28% this year from 37,914 in 2009 to 52,896 in 2010.

So looking at the contest as a whole 2010 I logged 714 QSOs, 156 sections and a final score of 111,456 points for an overall improvement of 38% from 2009. All in all I see this as a success even though I did not meet my original goals set for the 2010 ARRL Sweepstakes.

2009 ARRL Sweepstakes- SSB

Contest: ARRL Sweepstakes
Date: November 21-23, 2009
Mode: SSB
Period: Starts 2100 UTC Saturday, ends 0259 UTC Monday

80 / 14 / 5
40 / 30 / 6
20 / 181 / 45
15 / 42 / 15
TOTAL: 267 QSO / 71 SECT
SCORE: 37,914 (TIME ON: 13 H 38 Mn)

SOAPBOX: With 9 hours of contesting in the bag, it was time to prepare for the SSB version of Sweepstakes. It was up in the air where to start, 15M or 20M. I decided on 20M but after only an hour I jumped to 15M. It was 8 QSOs in on 15M when the neighbor came over and he said he could hear me through the TV and computer speakers. He also said his wireless phones were acting weird. So I vacated 15M, where I was running about 1000w and went back to 20M

I logged my best rate only an hour in at 2100z, 31/hr rate. SSB was going a bit quicker, but I was still taking more time than needed to make a contact. I was unsing Win-Test and had the prefills selected, so I had some idea of what to expect, but did not rely solely on it.

My first sit yielded about 5 hours, at which time moving to 40M and then to 80M caused nothing but pain and heartache, as my XYL was in the garage every QSO wanting to know why she was disconnected from the Internet. So with one QSO on 80M at 0208z I stopped. Well short of my first planned break, but what could do I? How could I operate if I keyed up, even at 100w and disconnected the Internet?

I got up real early, 3am (1100z) and jumped on 40M and 80M to see what I could salvage before the sun came up and 15 and 20M were back on the air. There were no great rates and I did not run any frequencies again. It was all search and pounce,which ended up hurting my final score.

Things only went from bad to worse when my XYL got up. I was using the Alpha 76PA and it was delivering a nice, solid 1000w out, but it was also causing more RF issues in the house. I finally decided to turn the amp off and run with 100w. This seemed to be worthwhile, as I still made many contacts and would only turn the amp on if I had to bust a pileup or make sure a section I had could hear me with the first call.

Unfortunately even barefoot at 100w my wife still complained of latency issues from my operating. No way I can rally verify this was actually the case. I had the Internet up and running and from what I saw, I did not disconnect while running 100w.

Much like CW I had to cut the SSB effort very short…way shorter than I had anticipated because I had taken time off from work on Sunday in order to give it a solid 20-24 hour attempt.

In the end I had a better SSB performance than I did on CW. I operated for 13.5 hours and made 267 QSOs, logging 71 sections for a total of 534 points and a final score of 37,914. All these numbers were an improvement over CW. For that I guess I can pat myself on the back. But even these numbers were a far cry from my intended goals of 400 QSOs and maintaining a 40/hr rate.

For SSB I also spotted EVERYTHING I worked and other stations as I spun the dial, This in hopes of giving my fellow club members a shot at picking up another QSO. This gave me a satisfaction that I was helping our cause to take back the gavel from PVRC.

So with Sweepstakes now over, all but submitting the logs and tallying the points remains. I will look forward to next year and the changes I will have in place in order to achieve a better score and clean sweeps on both CW and phone. This was one of the first contests where I truly learn a lot of valuable information that I can use, not only for SS but other contests that I will participate in this season.